kids encyclopedia robot

McDowell County, North Carolina facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Quick facts for kids
McDowell County
McDowell County Courthouse in Marion
McDowell County Courthouse in Marion
Official seal of McDowell County
Map of North Carolina highlighting McDowell County
Location within the U.S. state of North Carolina
Map of the United States highlighting North Carolina
North Carolina's location within the U.S.
Country  United States
State  North Carolina
Founded 1842
Named for Joseph McDowell
Seat Marion
Largest city Marion
 • Total 446 sq mi (1,160 km2)
 • Land 441 sq mi (1,140 km2)
 • Water 5.4 sq mi (14 km2)  1.2%%
 • Estimate 
 • Density 102/sq mi (39/km2)
Time zone UTC−5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−4 (EDT)
Congressional district 11th

McDowell County is a county located in the U.S. state of North Carolina. As of the 2010 census, the population was 44,996. Its county seat is Marion.

McDowell County comprises the Marion, NC Micropolitan Statistical Area, which is also included in the Hickory-Lenoir, NC Combined Statistical Area.


Archaeological excavations performed by Dr. David Moore, during the early 1980s, revealed the earliest inhabitants of McDowell County to be from the Mississippian and Woodland eras. Dr. Moore discovered evidence in an area close to the Catawba River in and around an unusual topographical site known as Round Hill. These early Native Americans lived in this section prior to Juan Pardo's exploration of the region.

Cherokee and Catawba Indians were known inhabitants of what is now McDowell County.

In 1566, the Spanish explorer Juan Pardo came to Western North Carolina traveling through the area that is now McDowell county. His purpose was to acquire territory for Spain, but he had also hoped to find precious metals. Pardo and his men built a log blockhouse at the headwaters of the Catawba River. Apparently intimidated by the formidable range of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the home of the Cherokee Nation, Pardo left the area the following year.

In 1748, "Hunting" John McDowell received a land grant for property known today as "Pleasant Gardens" including acreage originally located from Swan's Pond (Catawba County) up the Catawba River west to present day Marion and into the region known as Buck Creek. During a hunting expedition with his friend Henry Weidner, the two came upon a lush green valley with thousands upon thousands of acres of virgin forest. During that time, it was customary when settling a dispute to engage in a "friendly" wrestling match. McDowell came out the winner.

"Hunting" John McDowell received two land grants and after establishing residence along the Catawba River of Pleasant Gardens, raised his family. He is noted in Max Dixon's book The Wataugans as being instrumental in Jacob Brown's Purchase of one of the last remaining pieces of acreage along the Nolichucky River in Tennessee when he hosted a negotiations with the Cherokee on his farm in North Carolina.

His son, Joseph McDowell, is noted in history as a significant contributor to the Battle at Kings Mountain. McDowell County is named in his honor. Today, his home stands as one of the few remaining homes in North Carolina still standing and built by its namesake.

The settlement of Old Fort was later established and it had become the westernmost outpost of Colonial civilization at the time. These early pioneers established a close community protected by a series of forts which remained active until the early 19th century. Thus, Old Fort.

Marion Carson House
Historic Carson House

In 1793, Colonel John Carson built a plantation house near Buck Creek in the Pleasant Gardens community, which still stands today as the Historic Carson House. He also operated gold mines in the southern part of the county. Colonel Carson was a significant historical figure in the American Revolutionary War.

Marion, the county seat of McDowell County, was planned and built on land selected by the first McDowell County Commissioners on March 14, 1844 at the Historic Carson House. It was not until 1845, however, that the official name of Marion was sanctioned as the county seat by the state legislature. The name of Marion came from Francis Marion, the American Revolutionary War hero, known as the “Swamp Fox” and the man upon whom the movie "The Patriot" was based.

During the Carolina Gold Rush period of the early 19th century, the south county area was known for its gold production. The banks of the Muddy Creek and mines at Vein Mountain were productive areas. Many mines and thriving gold rush towns such as Brackettown no longer exist, although scattered ruins and cemeteries mark many locations of the gold rush period.There were other mines in the area also including an old mine in Woodlawn. In that community someone opened a mine on Tom's Creek which may have been a Mica mine. There are remnants of the a sorting house and the old mine shaft itself. Who opened and ran this mine is unknown.

McDowell County is rich in American Civil War History. The movie The Last of the Mohicans was filmed along the shores of the picturesque Lake James.

McDowell County was first formed in 1842 from parts of Burke County and Rutherford County. It was named for Joseph McDowell, a Revolutionary War leader and hero of the Battle of King's Mountain, and a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1797 to 1799.

In 1861, parts of McDowell County, Burke County, Caldwell County, Watauga County, and Yancey County were combined to form Mitchell County.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 446 square miles (1,160 km2), of which 441 square miles (1,140 km2) is land and 5.4 square miles (14 km2) (1.2%) is water.

Numerous small creeks and streams flow through the county. The Catawba River crosses the county and empties into Lake James. It flows over Catawba Falls on its way, which is accessible to the public. Other waterfalls can be found in the county, such as Toms Creek Falls. Almost half of the county, including the two aforementioned waterfalls, is located inside the Pisgah National Forest. Linville Caverns, North Carolina's only limestone cavern system open to the public, is located in the far northern part of the county.

Geologically, McDowell County is located within the southern Appalachian Mountains region. The Blue Ridge Parkway closely follows the northwestern boundary of the county. McDowell County rises rapidly from the Piedmont (United States) in its extreme eastern border where elevations average about 1200 feet above sea level, to the Blue Ridge Mountains in the north and west. Its highest point is Pinnacle -- at 5,665 feet above sea level the second-highest mountain (after Grandfather Mountain) in the Blue Ridge), and also considered the southernmost tip of the Black Mountains, the highest ridge in eastern America. Much of the county lies in the Foothills (North Carolina) region of Western North Carolina.

Adjacent counties

National protected areas

  • Blue Ridge Parkway (part)
  • Pisgah National Forest (part)
  • Curtis Creek Recreation Area (part)
  • Lake James State Park (part)

Major highways

  • I-40
  • US 64
  • US 70
  • US 221
  • NC 80
  • NC 126
  • NC 183
  • NC 226
  • NC 226A


Historical population
Census Pop.
1850 6,246
1860 7,120 14.0%
1870 7,592 6.6%
1880 9,836 29.6%
1890 10,939 11.2%
1900 12,567 14.9%
1910 13,538 7.7%
1920 16,763 23.8%
1930 20,336 21.3%
1940 22,996 13.1%
1950 25,720 11.8%
1960 26,742 4.0%
1970 30,648 14.6%
1980 35,135 14.6%
1990 35,681 1.6%
2000 42,151 18.1%
2010 44,996 6.7%
U.S. Decennial Census
1790-1960 1900-1990
1990-2000 2010-2013

2020 census

McDowell County racial composition
Race Number Percentage
White (non-Hispanic) 37,788 84.77%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 1,707 3.83%
Native American 136 0.31%
Asian 388 0.87%
Other/Mixed 1,612 3.62%
Hispanic or Latino 2,947 6.61%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 44,578 people, 18,173 households, and 13,065 families residing in the county.


Map of McDowell County North Carolina With Municipal and Township Labels
Map of McDowell County, North Carolina With Municipal and Township Labels



Census-designated place

Unincorporated communities


  • Crooked Creek
  • Dysartsville
  • Glenwood
  • Marion
  • Montford Cove
  • Nebo
  • North Cove
  • Pleasant Gardens
  • Woodlawn-Sevier
  • Sugar Hill
  • Old Fort


McDowell High
View of McDowell High from the football stadium

The following is a list of schools located in McDowell County:

  • Marion Elementary School
  • West Marion Elementary School
  • Nebo Elementary School
  • Old Fort Elementary School
  • Pleasant Gardens Elementary School
  • Eastfield Global Magnet School
  • Glenwood Elementary School
  • North Cove Elementary School
  • West McDowell Middle School
  • East McDowell Middle School
  • Foothills Community School
  • McDowell High School
  • McDowell Early College High School
  • McDowell Academy for Innovation
  • Phoenix Academy
  • New Manna Christian School
  • Nebo Crossing Christian Academy

McDowell County has a one community college: McDowell Technical Community College

kids search engine
McDowell County, North Carolina Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.